SAN ANTONIO — Cleveland Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue says the Cavs’ explosive team meeting before Monday’s practice needs to result in better play on the court or else it will amount to meaningless talk.
“I don’t know if it was needed, but now we got to do something about it,” Lue said at Cleveland’s shootaround Tuesday morning in preparation for the San Antonio Spurs. “Do a lot of talking, but we got to play better. We got to execute better offensively. We got to execute better defensively. We got to be better collectively.
“And it’s one through 15, one through eight on the coaching staff. Everyone has to be better, and we’ve been saying that, but we’ve been taking the necessary steps to do that. We’ve been practicing, showing film, working on defensive things that we’ve got to get better at, so at some point we’ve got to start putting it together for 48 minutes.”
With frustrations boiling over after Saturday’s 148-124 blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder — a game in which Kevin Love played three minutes before subbing out and leaving the arena early because of an illness — Love and other members of the team were called out in a fiery exchange on Monday, as first reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski.
“Did I feel like a target? I think everybody, most people were a target,” Love said Tuesday when asked about the meeting. “We’re trying to figure this thing out. People hold themselves to a very high standard on this team, and we’re a team that feels like we can compete at the highest level. For us, it’s not about me. I’m not going to make it about myself. I’m sure with other guys it’s the same thing.
“Biggest thing is moving forward. For me, the thing I’ve always done is kept my mouth shut, and I continue to work hard and try to do best for the Cavs. That’s all I can do tonight and moving forward these last 35, 40 games. Overall just try to help this team.”
Love told reporters Monday that he was feeling dizzy and disoriented before the Oklahoma City game. He and the training staff agreed to have him sit out and see whether his status improved by halftime. It didn’t. Once Tristan Thompson was pegged to start in Love’s place to begin the third quarter, he showered, changed and left the arena before the game was over.
During the team meeting, players were both skeptical of Love’s sickness and critical of the Cavs’ coaching staff and decision-makers to allow him to leave the team like that without any accountability, sources told ESPN.
Cleveland comes into the Spurs game having gone 3-9 since Christmas Day and having given up 118 points or more in five of the past seven games. Within the locker room, blame for the Cavaliers’ struggles has been directed toward everyone, from Love to Isaiah Thomas?to Lue to the front office, led by general manager Koby Altman, to owner Dan Gilbert, league sources told Wojnarowski.
James’ play has also been called into question, according to multiple team sources. During the Cavs’ past 12 games, he is averaging 22.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 7.1 assists and 4.4 turnovers while shooting 20 percent on 3-pointers and 65.8 percent from the foul line. James repeatedly refused to address the team meeting when asked about it on Tuesday.
“I don’t want to talk about it,” James said, concluding his media availability session. “I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it.”
On Monday, James commented on his recent play.
“Everybody is accountable for the team, and my numbers is down. The team’s numbers is down and we’re not playing well, so obviously it’s a direct correlation of all of those things,” he said. “I could care less about me individually. But when I’m not playing to my standard and we’re losing, then I have to do a better job as well, so I got to figure that out too.”
Midseason struggles and the drama that surrounds them are nothing new for this Cavs team. Each of the past three regular seasons included spotty play that, contrasted with championship expectations, created tension. And each of the past three regular seasons were followed by NBA Finals berths as the league’s Eastern Conference champion.
James was asked whether the Cavs thrive on chaos at this point.
“We have an opportunity to play some really good ball tonight against a very good team,” James replied. “So we should take that challenge.”
While the Cavs’ discord has gone public, there is a sentiment within the team that their emotional moment are not that different from what any team experiences throughout the course of a season, sources said.
“All families fight,” one team source present for the impromptu meeting told ESPN.
Lue, who sat out a game on Dec. 21 because of an illness and had to miss most of Monday’s practice for a doctor’s appointment, said Love should be taken at his word.
“If the training staff says Kevin’s sick and he’s out, he’s sick and he’s out. I don’t think anyone on our team is a doctor — none of the players. You can’t speak for what the training staff says,” Lue said. “Throughout the course of the season, he’s human, everyone’s human. There’s going to be other guys that get sick and be down and out, too. We’ve got to more forward, move past that, and we’ve got to try to get on track as far as winning basketball games.”
Lue also said it’s hypocritical for players to blame Love when they let the Thunder score 148 points — tying a Cavs franchise record for most points allowed in a regulation game — and weren’t competitive for most of the game.
“I mean, that’s crazy,” Lue said. “If Kevin was out there we might have given up 170. Who knows, man. We’ve got to be better, got to just stay together. We’re being tested right now. This is when your true character comes out and the character of who you are as a person and as a player. We’ve got to step up and play basketball.”
Several team sources told ESPN they hope that communication will improve in the organization from top to bottom — from players talking on defense to Altman, in his first year as GM, establishing protocol for open discourse.
“Even if it’s directed at me or at anybody else, you just hope that it helps and that we can get better from it,” Love said. “I think communication — it’s funny talking about communication and the lack thereof. Maybe yesterday was a really good thing for us, you never know. Moving forward we hope that we can put it behind us and continue to get better. We have a lot of talent here. We feel like we’re too good to be on the kind of streak we’re on now. Hopefully we can right this ship, if not tonight, we hope it is tonight, but going back home to Cleveland.”
Altman continues to work on potential deals to improve the Cavs ahead of the Feb. 8 trade deadline, and the meeting did not affect his urgency in that regard, sources told ESPN.
“Hopefully what transpires on the court from here on out and moving forward, we’re hoping it’s better,” said Love, who added that he’s “numb” to the speculation surrounding the Cavs after the past three seasons. “Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better. We hope that’s not the case. Like I said, you guys have seen us at our highest level. We’re pretty good. We feel like we can get better, but we need to right this ship. February is right around the corner, and from there it goes pretty fast.”